Food Safety News
At least 18 people across Norway have fallen ill with a rare strain of Salmonella, according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
The strain, Salmonella Coeln, infected three children and 15 adults. Each year for the past 10 years, Norway has seen zero to three cases of illness from this particular strain.
Norwegian health authorities are currently investigating the cause of the outbreak.
Norwegian counties where patients fell ill include Buskerud, Oslo, Rogaland, Akershus, Nordland, Oppland, Troms, Vestfold, Hordaland, Vest-Agder and Østfold.
In particular, researchers found that food preparation and handling practices, worker health policies, and hand-washing practices are among the underlying environmental factors that often are not reported during foodborne outbreaks.
The agency believes that increasing the awareness and implementation of correct food safety practices in restaurants and delis could help prevent many foodborne illness outbreaks.
“Inspectors have not had a formal system to capture and report the underlying factors that likely contribute to foodborne outbreaks or a way to inform prevention strategies and implement routine corrective measures in restaurants, delis and schools to prevent future outbreaks,” said Carol Selman, head of CDC’s Environmental Health Specialists Network team at the National Center for Environmental Health.
Since 2000, CDC has worked with state and local health departments to develop new surveillance and training tools to advance the use of environmental health assessments as a part of foodborne outbreak investigations. One tool is a free, interactive e-Learning course to help state and local health departments identify environmental causes of outbreaks and recommend appropriate controls.
Another is the National Voluntary Environmental Assessment Information System (NVEAIS), which gives food venue inspectors a way to track underlying environmental assessment data that describe what events most likely lead to a foodborne outbreak. These data subsequently help CDC and other public health professionals to better understand the primary and underlying causes of an outbreak.
The agency plans to debut its new data surveillance system and e-Learning course in early 2014.
The Southern Nevada Health District said it has not released a case count, but organizers of the tournament are saying that 90 to 100 children and parents have fallen ill.
The health district has also not released information on the number of ill people who went to hospitals, said public information officer Jennifer Sizemore. Approximately 28 people are believed to have been hospitalized, according to CBS News.
“The health district is investigating. We’re gathering information, issuing surveys to attendees, seeing if there’s a common source, if any,” Sizemore told Food Safety News, adding that it is often difficult to find the source in norovirus outbreaks.
At least 18 people staying at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino were reportedly taken to hospitals earlier in the week. The event, which was headquartered at the Rio, had about 7,000 attendees. Attendees staying at other hotels also became sick, according to tournament organizers.
Food Safety News received a tip that two “seriously ill” patients were admitted to a hospital in Riverside, CA, after returning home from the tournament. Inquiries to the hospital had not been returned as of press time.
Norovirus is highly contagious and can easily spread between people. Food may also become contaminated with the virus and infect those who eat it.
Symptoms of norovirus include diarrhea, nausea and stomach cramps. It is often incorrectly referred to as the “24-hour flu.”
When President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into law in January 2011, it was considered a long-fought, but significant and bipartisan, victory to update the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s authority and oversight of the food supply.
While much of the wrangling over the language of the law was made public through media coverage of Congressional hearings, the ensuing industry influence over implementation of the law has been subject to far less public scrutiny (with the exception of FDA’s unlawful delay of FSMA’s critical implementing regulations, over which Center for Food Safety has successfully sued).
As a recent report from the Sunlight Foundation illuminates, industry lobbyists have been on FDA’s doorstep from the beginning, even more so since FSMA passed, influencing the agency’s implementation of the law. Not content to pay their way into the public forum of legislation, industry groups also devote significant time and resources to influencing rulemaking and post-food-crisis management. Sunlight explains that:
“Using FOIA, Sunlight obtained memoranda of meetings for the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) over a two-year period, yielded dozens of industry contacts with the regulators who oversee them. Industry group representatives were present at meetings four times as often as representatives of consumer interests.”
Winning the prize for the most frequent visitor to FDA over the two-year period was Miriam Guggenheim of the law firm Covington & Burling. Thanks to her efforts, members of the American Bakers Association (ABA) will likely be exempt from FSMA’s proposed regulations regarding warehouse temperatures, measures, FDA says, “prevent problems that can cause foodborne illness.” The exemption, the ABA press release notes, “was allowed under language in FSMA that was included at ABA’s recommendation.” Well done.
Guggenheim also accompanied representatives from Mars candy when the company wanted faster approval processes for food additives and held telephone calls with FDA about “bottled water labeling,” among other client needs. But, despite Guggenheim being identified as a frequent visitor to FDA, according to Sunlight, she has not been registered as a lobbyist since 2010, before FSMA even passed. How so? Sunlight says it just shows the weakness of our lobbying disclosure rules and a lack of enforcement:
“Guggenheim’s work on behalf of food industry heavyweights shows how much of the influence game in Washington still remains in the shadows. Not everyone who pushes private agendas in Congress and at regulatory agencies registers to lobby. Those who are registered to lobby disclose minimal information about their activities.”
The only way Sunlight was able to obtain the information it did was because “agencies keep track of which special interests come calling and why.” However, “those records are rarely made available to the public without a Freedom of Information Act request.” The documents Sunlight obtained from FDA revealed a wide variety of lobbying by industry, in no way limited to the FSMA rulemaking process. Several issues reveal an interesting cause-and-effect pattern: Soon after an industry-tarnishing report appears in the media, meetings at FDA ensue.
Take, for example, highly caffeinated energy drinks, which have caused a lot of controversy lately. On Nov. 14, 2012, The New York Times ran a story with the headline, “Caffeinated Drink Cited in Reports of 13 Deaths.” The next day, D.C. lawmakers, led by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), once again called on FDA to investigate the safety of energy drinks, following up on letters the senators sent in April and September of that year. “We urge the agency,” they wrote, “to assert its regulatory authority over caffeine levels in energy drinks marketed as beverages.”
Just two weeks later, on Nov. 30, 2012, Guggenheim and three of her Covington colleagues, as well as Thomas P. Davis, the chief scientific officer for their client, Monster Energy Drink, sat down with 13 members of FDA. The description of the discussion in the official memorandum is vague, but proving the drinks were safe was clearly a top priority. Dr. Davis provided “studies relating to the safety of Monster energy drink ingredients” and “emphasized the safety of Monster’s products.”
Almost a month-and-a-half later, on Jan. 11, 2013, the Times ran another story on the dangers of energy drinks, this one with the headline, “More Emergency Visits Linked to Energy Drinks.” Just four days later, on Jan. 15, FDA hosted another meeting with energy drink insiders, this time with Kraft Foods representatives, on the topic of their new energy beverage, MiO Liquid Water Enhancer (which was not specifically named in the Times article).
Another hot topic in the news has been arsenic in rice. A Consumer Reports study published on Sept. 19, 2012, revealed that organic rice, baby cereal, and numerous other rice products contained arsenic, often “at worrisome levels.” Within a few weeks, on Nov. 8, 2012, members of the Organic Trade Association, rice producer Lundberg Family Farms, California Natural Products, USA Rice, and others met with representatives from FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. The subject, according to the memorandum, was “Arsenic in Rice.”
That large corporate interests lobby our lawmakers to legislate (or not legislate) in their favor is nothing new. But the Sunlight report shines a light on a dark corner of the workings of the Big Food lobby that — in part thanks to the complicated FOIA process — we rarely get to see. A review of the agency’s records shows that, while FDA also takes meetings with consumer interest groups, the vast majority of the agency’s schedule is composed of meetings with large corporations such as Coca-Cola and Campbell Soup Company, along with major trade groups, including the National Chicken Council, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and the American Spice Trade Association (turmeric and cardamom need lobbyists, too). According to Sunlight, consumer groups were present at only 18 percent of the meetings, while industry representatives were showing up 78 percent of the time.
So how can those of us not adept at filing regular FOIA requests even know that these meetings with government officials in charge of food safety are happening? The report’s author, Nancy Watzman, told me that federal lobbying disclosure rules are “very porous, rely on the honor system, and give a very incomplete picture of what’s really going on.” Given these weaknesses, Sunlight’s government affairs consultant recommends several improvements, including a requirement that all lobbyists report the name of the official contacted by the lobbyist, a summary of issue discussed, specific actions requested, and the name of the client. This sort of transparency Sunlight says, would have an important impact on democracy:
“Had these principles been in place while the lobbying for an exemption to the food safety rules had been ongoing, it would not have taken the relentless digging of an intrepid reporter to uncover who was shaping the rules. More importantly, real time, public disclosure of industry’s efforts for special treatment is paramount for healthy debate.”
Kenneth Kendrick, whose warnings went unheeded about the potential for contamination at peanut processing plants in Plainview, TX, and Portales, NM, has filed papers to become the Texas Green Party candidate for Agriculture Commissioner for the Lone Star State.
Kendrick once worked for the now-defunct Peanut Corporation of America, which ran a peanut processing plant at Plainview, and, on occasion, purchased peanuts from Sunland, about 100 miles west in Portales.
PCA went bankrupt after the 2008-2009 nationwide Salmonella outbreak killed nine people and sickened about 700. Four of its top executives are scheduled to go to trial early next year on a total of 76 federal felony counts related to the outbreak.
Sunland filed for bankruptcy more recently following a separate 2012 outbreak traced back to peanut butters it made. Some say it’s possible that, if Kendrick’s information had been more thoroughly investigated, both outbreaks might have been avoided.
Kendrick is now taking what he has to say directly to Texas voters. He’s been on the public speaking circuit talking about corporate whistleblowing. And, along the rough Texas-New Mexico border, he might find Valencia peanut growers who used to be able to go back and forth to the two plants willing to listen as they now have no market.
The Texas Green Party, which is currently recruiting candidates for statewide offices, has earned ballot placement by winning ever-larger voting percentages. It won 2014 ballot placement with the showings of two of its 2012 candidates: Josh Wendel, who ran for Railroad Commissioner, and Charles Waterbury, who stood for Supreme Court justice. Wendel got 484,826 votes, or 7.90 percent, and Waterbury got 491,571 votes, or 8.04 percent.
Kendrick is a resident of Wilson, TX. The filing deadline is Dec. 9.
After stepping down this month from her post as Under Secretary for Food Safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Dr. Elisabeth Hagen will join Deloitte as a food safety senior advisor for the consulting firm.
Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, commonly referred to as Deloitte, is one of the “Big Four” professional services firms, along with PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, and KPMG. It is based in New York City.
Hagen will advise Deloitte’s clients on increased regulatory requirements, food and product safety challenges, supply chain, traceback, prevention-based policies, strategy and communications.
“Elisabeth will bring to Deloitte an impressive blend of regulatory level oversight and hands-on experience, stemming from her role as the highest ranking food safety official in the U.S.,” said Pat Conroy, vice chairman of Deloitte, in a statement. “Her understanding of the policies and programs of the Food Safety and Inspection Service and FDA, and her recognized status as a thought leader in national food safety policy, will further strengthen our practice’s capabilities and enhance the industry insights we offer our clients.”
Hagen took office as Under Secretary for Food Safety in August 2010. She announced her upcoming resignation in November after what she called “an ambitious three years.”
“Food safety is an issue of extreme and increasing importance, not only for the end consumer but also for the manufacturers whose businesses rely on the public’s trust,” Hagen said. “I am excited to be joining the team at Deloitte as we help manufacturers and producers that focus on safety as a top priority, and guide them as they comply with increasingly complex regulation.”
The production, testing and labeling of raw milk will be under new rules in South Dakota effective Dec. 11, 2013.
State Secretary of Agriculture Lucas Lentsch approved the rules, clearing the way for the changes under consideration since early this year to go into effect. The changes were already passed by the South Dakota Legislature’s Rules Review Committee and were subjected to three public hearings.
“Those are all very minimum expectations that we’ve put out there for the raw milk producers, and it’s really for the public health and safety,” he said.
The new South Dakota rules set a maximum coliform level of 10 per milliliter for raw milk, which at least one producer says is “next to impossible to hit.” Dawn Habeck, who owns Black Hills Milk in Belle Fourche, predicts the new rules will put raw milk dairies out of business.
Habeck and other raw milk advocates say that naturally occurring bacteria in milk increase as soon as it leaves a cow’s udder and that the milk’s beneficial nutrients and enzymes are destroyed by pasteurization.
South Dakota’s five licensed raw milk dairies will be able to sell their products on the farm or through home delivery as long as they are properly labeled. Lentsch has promised that his department will help producers comply with the changes.
Black Hills Milk, however, plans to withdraw to a so-called “herd share model,” limiting its sales to a private group of owners who will share expenses along with the raw milk and raw milk products. The dairy previously sold raw milk products at the Rapid City farmer’s market.
When Dr. Bill Keene gave a presentation on the dangers of raw milk at a past meeting of the American Veterinary Medical Association, even the raw milk advocates on the opposing side of the panel couldn’t help but laugh and revel in the Oregon senior state epidemiologist’s dry humor.
“When he opened the presentation, he said there were a lot of words people associate with raw milk,” said Amanda Rose, a raw milk proponent debating Keene at the time. “The first slide was animated, with words popping up like ‘Healthy, Nutritious,’ and other things like ‘Death.’ The final word, in tiny letters, was ‘Bullshit.’”
“Yeah, I should have been offended,” Rose said, laughing, “but you couldn’t be mad when he was so funny.”
Keene, 56, who fell ill with acute pancreatitis and passed away suddenly on Sunday afternoon, was the epidemiologist who always called things how he saw them and regularly bucked tradition, according to colleagues and admirers. He was the epidemiologist who took environmental samples of restroom diaper-changing tables, personally visited outbreak victims’ homes to collect suspect food, and earned a national reputation for digging deep into investigations and pioneering unconventional methods.
“He was always like a pit bull, turning over every stone, finding a way to make the available resources work,” said Michele Jay-Russell, program manager for the Western Center for Food Safety at the University of California-Davis.
Others said that Keene’s focus and the speed with which he pursued outbreak investigations likely saved countless people from debilitating illness and potential death.
Keene’s work involved breakthroughs on investigations into major outbreaks, including the spinach E. coli outbreak of 2006 and the Nestlé Toll House E. coli outbreak of 2009. He was also the first scientist to describe E. coli in deer, Jay-Russell said.
“There are not many in food safety that you can look at and say, ‘This person really made a difference,’ but Bill was one of those few people,” said David Acheson, CEO of the Acheson Group and former chief medical officer at departments within both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Above all, those remembering Keene on Monday spoke extensively of his commitment to public health. His work focused on the best interests of the public, said Janet Mohle-Boetani, deputy medical executive for the Public Health Unit of the California Correctional Health Care Services.
Because outbreaks don’t recognize state borders, Keene would often end up working with Mohle-Boetani and public health units in California during big outbreaks. When California’s almond industry was hit especially hard with Salmonella outbreaks a decade ago, Keene traveled to the plants to help solve contamination issues with their operations.
“Bill knew that getting at the cause of an outbreak rapidly was what you needed to do to protect the public, and he was very persistent,” Mohle-Boetani said. “If we had a hard investigation, we used to say, ‘We need to channel Bill Keene here.’”
“He’s going to be remembered as a real pillar of food safety commitment and a real public health advocate,” said Craig Wilson, vice president of food safety and quality assurance at Costco. “That’s what set him apart – his wonderful attitude and passion for public health.”
Part of what made Keene unique was his early training in anthropology, said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Keene earned his bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Yale University and then spent two years studying rhesus monkeys in India and Pakistan before attending graduate school in public health and microbiology.
“Epidemiologists look through the lens of statistical analysis and study design,” Osterholm said. “Bill had that training, but, as an anthropologist, he also looked at telling stories and seeing how the facts fit. Bill really brought that to the area of foodborne disease epidemiology.”
Oregon and Minnesota are often cited as having two of the leading state epidemiology teams. While that might lead some to become competitive, Keene was always a great collaborator with Minnesota, Osterholm said.
“That’s really a tribute to his values as much as his work,” Osterholm added. “Because of the number of lives he touched, we’re all going to be much better off in the future because of him. His impact on foodborne disease epidemiology will not stop because of his death.”
That legacy of doggedly pursuing investigations and thinking outside the box has already left a mark on the world of epidemiology.
“His work certainly demonstrated how innovative he was to approaching foodborne illness,” said Doug Powell, vice president of communication at IEH Labs and publisher of Barfblog. “He went his own way and often didn’t rely on traditional tools, and he was usually right. You can’t argue with that.”
“He will be missed, and food safety will suffer as a consequence, but no doubt his legacy lives on through his training and insight,” Acheson said. “But there will never be another one quite like Bill.”
In June 2012, Food Safety News interviewed Keene about an E. coli O145 outbreak that had yet to be resolved. While Oregon was not involved with the outbreak investigation, Keene provided insight into how public health investigators try to pinpoint a food source in an open investigation. Listen to that interview below:
About 80 percent of all antibiotics distributed in the U.S. are for food animals. They’re commonly used to promote growth and to prevent, control and treat disease. Overuse can promote the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the food supply and ultimately cause resistant infections in humans.
In September, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report noting that, although the majority of drug-resistant infections occur in healthcare settings, concern is growing over antibiotic-resistant infections from food.
Most recently, at least 389 people in 23 states and Puerto Rico have been sickened by strains of multidrug-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg in connection with chicken produced by Foster Farms.
In March of this year, U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) introduced the fourth version of her Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act to the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill would ban non-therapeutic uses of medically important antibiotics in food animal production.
Food Safety News recently caught up with Slaughter for a conversation about the seriousness of antibiotic resistance and the path forward to a ban.
FSN: How would you summarize the gravity of ever-increasing antibiotic resistance?
LS: One of the greatest breakthroughs ever in the field of medicine is seriously compromised by this. We need to stop this overuse in livestock, and, frankly, I don‘t think it does the livestock any good either. The most important thing that I want to convey is the instant need to do this. We haven’t got time to waste.
FSN: In your bill, you note that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration first concluded that feeding livestock low doses of antibiotics used in human disease treatment could promote the development of antibiotic-resistance in bacteria back in 1977. Why do you think it’s been 36 years and we haven’t done much to address the issue?
LS: Because 88 percent of the lobbying done on this bill was from people opposed to it. And we can’t get anywhere with either the FDA or USDA to make changes – even though we have over 400 outside groups supporting us, including every major scientific group in the country and medical groups. But we simply can’t crack that code of why do the producers have more clout than the consumers.
FSN: What is it that the producers are concerned about?
LS: What they believe is that it makes the animal grow faster and heftier – they get a better price for it. I don’t think that that’s at all conclusive because countries such as Denmark figured this out years ago. They are doing a better job of containing diseases on farms and their meat is healthier, and people are willing to pay for that.
Certainly one of the reasons that we believe that the American agribusiness uses so many antibiotics is that they keep the livestock in despicable, filthy, dirt-ridden conditions. And then they try to make up for that.
FSN: So what is it going to take to get action on this issue?
LS: We have no idea. I tried to make the case that this needed to be done, that this is an emergency, that we are really destroying the efficacy of one of the most important medical breakthroughs in the history of the world. And all I got back [from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration] was, “We’re going to give them three more years.”
FSN: Is there something that could sway Congress or FDA into action?
LS: We need to get consumers to say, “We’re not going to eat it. We will not feed this to our families. Cut it out.” Already there are some companies that don’t use antibiotics and hormones in their food. [They’re] hard to find, but we really have to make the case, as they have done in other countries, that you just can’t do that anymore.
I learned from another bill that I was carrying how much the publicity matters, and the only way I could ever get the majority in the House to even take up a bill like that would be an outcry from the public.
FSN: Lastly, I’d like to ask for your reaction to the situation with Foster Farms.
LS: Foster Farms blamed the consumer. They said they don’t know how to cook this chicken, and they suggested 160 degrees. But Costco had their chicken and cooked it to 180 degrees, and it was still contaminated. Given that Foster Farms has 15 facilities in the country and that none of them were closed down, however, nothing was basically done about it.
As a microbiologist, I’m angry. As a member of Congress, I’m furious.
Cloud’s Meats, Inc., of Carthage, MO, is voluntarily recalling beef and pork products that may possibly be contaminated with E. coli after positive test results in samples of items produced in mid-November.
According to a Dec. 2 news release, the samples were taken during routine testing conducted by the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s Meat and Poultry Inspection Program on Nov. 14 and analyzed by the Department’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Springfield.
The Jasper County meat processor is voluntarily recalling approximately 1,450 pounds of meat, including ground beef and pork, sausage and steaks. The recalled products are marked with the code “318” and labeled with Clouds Meats Inc. or Cloud’s Smoked Meats.
Recalled items include 1,052 pounds of ground beef, 158 pounds of pork sausage, 152 pounds of ground pork, and 96 pounds of tenderized minute steak and tenderized round steak.
Company records indicate that the products were not listed as distributed for retail sale. However, anyone who may have the products listed above should return any unused portion to the business at 2013 S. Paradise Lane in Carthage.
Anyone concerned about an illness should contact their health-care provider.
Food contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 may not look or smell spoiled but can still make you sick. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, mild to severe abdominal cramps, and watery to bloody diarrhea. In severe cases of illness, some people may have seizures or strokes, need blood transfusions and kidney dialysis, or live with permanent kidney damage. In severe cases, the illness can be fatal.
British retailer Marks & Spencer is recalling three mussel-based food products after illnesses were reported in the U.K.
All packs of the following products haven been removed from sale and are being recalled from customers:
- M&S Mussels in Garlic
- Unique code: 00604819 & 00929189
- “Use by” date: all dates
- M&S Mussels in White Wine
- Unique code: 00720618
- “Use by” date: all dates
- M&S Mussels and Clams
- Unique code: 00667104
- “Use by” date: all dates
Customers who have purchased these products are directed not to eat them and to return them to the store for a refund. No other Marks & Spencer products are known to be affected.
The company is recalling the products as a precautionary measure while investigations are taking place. The supplier of the mussels is unnamed, and the exact nature of the illnesses has not been reported.
On Nov. 22, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) reintroduced a bill that would require clearer labeling of trans fats on food packaging.
In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration adopted a requirement that trans fats be listed on the nutrition facts panel of food packaging. But 0.4 gram or less is declared as “0g,” meaning companies can market such products as having “zero grams trans fat.”
Israel’s legislation would amend this regulation so that products with less than half a gram of trans fat would have an asterisk in the “amount per serving” column and a note at the bottom of the label explaining that the product “contains less than 0.5 grams trans fat.” Foods that actually don’t contain any trans fat could still list “0g” on the label.
Consumption of trans fat can increase the risk of coronary heart disease by raising low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, commonly referred to as “bad cholesterol.” The American Heart Association recommends that people limit their daily trans fat intake to less than 2 grams per day, but Israel is concerned that consumers could exceed this maximum without realizing it by eating multiple portions of a product containing 0.49 grams trans fat per serving labeled as 0 grams.
Israel introduced the bill two weeks after FDA announced a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), a major source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, are not generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for use in food.
“I am extremely pleased to hear that the FDA is taking a crucial step toward eliminating artificial trans fats in our food supply, which is sure to lead to a drastic reduction in heart disease in the U.S.,” Israel said in a statement at the time. “For many years now, I’ve been advocating for a more transparent labeling system, so consumers understand the amount of trans fats they are ingesting and have the information they need to make healthy choices.”
Israel did note in his bill that, despite the FDA’s determination, “certain foods will still contain a certain level of naturally-occurring trans fats,” and its labeling will remain in effect.
Seven years ago, mostly in 2007, more than 8,500 cats and dogs in the United States died from eating contaminated pet food. Ever since, American consumers have been fearful and suspicious about the seemingly chaotic pet-food industry.
Concerns deepened when the journal Pediatrics published, “Human Salmonella Infections Linked to Contaminated Dry Dog and Cat Food, 2006-2008,” confirming that exposure to tainted pet food also made humans sick – including many children. Ever since, the pet food industry has come in for more concern and change than at any time since American James Spratt first sold dog biscuits in England around 1860.
Spratt had noticed that the owners of English sporting dogs were at the docks to buy leftover ship’s biscuits for their animals. He “decided he could do better with a carefully compounded preparation of wheat meals, vegetables, beetroot, and meat,” according to the Washington D.C.-based Pet Food Institute (PFI), which has been around to advance the industry since 1958.
Spratt sold his formula and production to a British company, which, in turn, brought the commercial pet food industry to America around 1890, making biscuits and dry kibble available ever since. During World War I, canned horsemeat was sold as dog food. Canned cat food and dry-meat meal dog foods have been sold at retail since the 1930s.
By the 1950s, equipment made to produce breakfast cereals for humans was modified to turn out all the dry pet foods that the market demanded. PFI acknowledges that, early on, the formulation of pet foods was based “more on guesswork than science,” but it has evolved over the years. In the 1960s, with PFI sponsorship, the National Research Council (part of the National Academy of Sciences) developed the first nutrient profiles for pet foods.
Pet food industry sales of dog and cat food reached $19 billion in 2012. That’s nearly 8 million tons of dog and cat food, treats and mixers. Americans buy that much pet food because they care for more than 75 million dogs and almost 85 million cats.
While pet food is sold at all sorts of pet, feed, grocery, convenience and one-stop mom-and-pop stores, a couple of chains are worth mentioning for their size and impact on the industry. Phoenix-based PetSmart, Inc., publicly traded with 24,000 employees and 1,278 retail outlets, had sales last year just shy of $7 billion. San Diego-based Petco, a privately held company with 1,150 stores, is PetSmart’s only big rival.
Although the big pet store chains sell everything from exotic birds to doggy beds, it’s their large pet food sections that bring shoppers back to their stores on a regular schedule. However, a big industry with big retailers does not mean there’s been very much regulation of pet food. That’s about to change, but, up until now, pet owners who have lost a dog or a cat to pet food contamination are usually surprised that they don’t really have any place to turn.
Over the years, the states and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have practiced some oversight of pet food, mostly through a little-known organization called the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Dating back to early in the 20th century, AAFCO came up with definitions and standards to govern the feed industry, including pet food. It accomplished things such as banning the use of the word “pure” in brand names and the like, mostly by writing model laws for states to adopt.
More recently, AAFCO developed nutrient requirements for dogs and cats, caloric statements for pet foods, and policy for mineral supplements, and it has been involved with the content of pet food labels going back to the early 1960s. AAFCO, however, is a frustrating organization for pet owners, especially those who have recently lost an animal to contamination. It only meets a couple times each year, and it has a habit of closing its more interesting sessions to outsiders.
Since 2007, it seems that pet food contamination incidents have been occurring on a more regular basis. The latest involves specific brands of chicken jerky treats, which have sickened thousands of dogs and killed nearly 600. The brands involved are products made in China, and, while authorities suspect certain ingredients must be harmful to dogs, they cannot figure out what is specifically causing the deaths. (The brands are Milo’s Kitchen Chicken Jerky Treats, Nestle Purinas Waggin’ Train and Canyon Ranch Treats.)
Pet food recalls have also been more frequent in recent years. Mass casualty incidents, such as the recent one involving the jerky treats, and people getting sick from handling pet food, are the reasons why pet food and animal feed were included in the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 (FSMA). It means the first serious regulation of pet food by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is coming along with new rules for animal feed as well. FDA regulation means, among other things, that pet food will be subject to hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls.
“Pet food makers share the FDA’s commitment to pet food quality and safety, and we’re proud of the strong safety record of pet food,” said PFI in a statement on FSMA rules for pet food. “We and our member companies have been in close communication with the FDA over the past two years as it developed the proposed regulations. We will continue to work closely with FDA to help ensure that pet owners can have total confidence in the food and treats they feed their pets.”
A controversial study suggesting that rats fed genetically modified corn were more likely to develop cancer has been retracted by the scientific journal that first published it. The study had been cited by opponents of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as evidence of their harm, but it was heavily criticized in the scientific community for failing to meet scientific standards.
The study, known as the Séralini study after French lead author Gilles-Éric Séralini, was originally published in the November 2012 edition of Food and Chemical Toxicology to a very critical reception. Elsevier, the Massachusetts-based publisher of the journal, announced the retraction after a lengthy investigation into the article’s data and the peer-review process behind its publication.
Upon publication of the study, the journal received numerous letters expressing concern over the validity of the study and its use of animals, as well as allegations of fraud. The European Food Safety Authority stated that the study lacked scientific merit. Within weeks, 700 scientists had signed a petition for the authors to release all of their raw data, which they ultimately did with the publishers of the journal.
The publisher’s year-long investigation found no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of data, but did find “a legitimate cause for concern regarding both the number of animals in each study group and the particular strain selected,” according to a publisher statement.
Critics said that no significant conclusions could be drawn from the study because it only used 20 rats in each group. The publisher said the sample size was a concern during the original peer-review process, but that the peer review ultimately determined the study still had scientific merit.
A more in-depth review of the raw data revealed that no definitive conclusions could be drawn from the small sample size, the publisher said. In addition, the breed of rat used in the study is known to have a high incidence of tumors, to the point that natural variability could explain the higher numbers of tumors among the GMO-fed group. (As many as 70 percent of males and 87 percent of female rats get cancer naturally, according to evolutionary biologist and blogger PZ Myers.)
“Ultimately, the results presented (while not incorrect) are inconclusive, and therefore do not reach the threshold of publication for Food and Chemical Toxicology,” the publisher’s statement concluded.
The move to retract the study drew both instant praise and criticism to the journal. The European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) called the retraction “a travesty of science” that appeared to be “a bow to industry.”
ENSSER said that the study was a chronic toxicity study and not a full-scale carcinogenicity study, meaning that the Séralini study did not set out to draw any definite conclusions, but instead simply aimed to report observations. The study also did not specifically set out to find tumors, but found an increased rate of tumors regardless, ENSSER said.
“The biochemical data confirm the toxic effects, such as those on liver and kidney, which are serious enough by themselves,” ENSSER said. “The tumours and mortality rates are observations which need to be confirmed by a specific carcinogenicity study with higher numbers of rats; in view of public food safety, it is not wise to simply ignore them.”
Anti-biotech organization GMWatch called the retraction “illicit, unscientific, and unethical” in a statement. The retraction, they said, violates the publishing guidelines of the Committee on Publications Ethics, of which the journal is a member.
Those publishing guidelines give only three circumstances under which a journal should retract a study:
- Clear evidence that the findings are unreliable due to misconduct (e.g., data fabrication) or honest error
- Plagiarism or redundant publication
- Unethical research
“Numerous published scientific papers contain inconclusive findings, which are often mixed in with findings that can be presented with more certainty,” the group stated. “It is for future researchers to build on the findings and refine scientific understanding of any uncertainties.”
Others applauded the retraction, saying that the study should never have been published in the first place.
“It was clear from even a superficial reading that this paper was not fit for publication, and in this instance the peer review process did not work properly,” wrote David Spiegelhalter, professor at the University of Cambridge.
PZ Myers said that scientists have been appalled by the study’s shoddy protocol.
“Would you believe that in a study with a control group and multiple experimental groups fed on GMO corn, the authors did not use any statistical tests to tell if there was a significant difference between any of the groups? Let that sink in,” Myers wrote.
Séralini himself has said that he is contemplating suing the journal.
Dr. William Keene, Oregon’s senior state epidemiologist, died Sunday, Dec. 1, The Oregonian newspaper reported. Keene was admitted to a Portland hospital two weeks earlier for acute pancreatitis.
For the past two decades, the nationally known food detective kept the Oregon Public Health Division at the top of a short list of states known for being able to quickly solve outbreaks of foodborne disease.
In a profile published in The Oregonian in 2010, colleagues called Keene everything from “one of the food safety heroes in the U.S.” to “zealous, energetic, dedicated and diligent.”
His personal license plate was Oregon O157:H7, the deadliest strain of E. coli.
Keene, 56, grew up in Seattle, where his father was an accountant for Boeing and his mother was a homemaker. He is a 1977 graduate of Yale University, with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology.
He spent two years in India and Pakistan studying rhesus monkeys. Returning to the states, he became interested in parasites while working as a lab technician at the University of California at San Francisco.
His interest in parasites led Keene back to graduate school, first at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and then at the University of California at Berkeley, where he graduated in 1989 with a master’s in public health and a doctorate in microbiology. He had worked as Oregon’s top food detective ever since.
Food Safety News Publisher Bill Marler said the two states that almost always solve their foodborne illness outbreaks are Minnesota and Oregon.
“Minnesota has Team Diarrhea. Oregon just had Bill, and that was enough,” he said, adding, “Bill Keene will be missed.”
Survivors include his wife, Elise Gautier, brother David Keene, sisters Beverly Keene and Pam Keene, along with nieces and nephews.
As many as 80 children and parents have reportedly fallen ill with nausea, diarrhea and vomiting after attending a youth football tournament in Las Vegas last week, according to NBC affiliate News 3.
As of Sunday afternoon, the exact cause of illness was still unclear, but at least 13 children and five adults have been treated at hospitals for foodborne illness.
All of those who became ill were staying at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. It is unclear if anyone staying at other hotels was treated at hospitals.
Food Safety News will update this story as more information becomes available.
When they are successful, subsidies follow values and are sold to the public as desirable commodities. And, they should do what they claim they will do.
During the years I lived in the Pacific Northwest, where hydroelectricity starts out cheap, most folks willingly went along with increases in their electric bills to “save the salmon.” It’s been a long time since I thought about that one. But, over the long weekend, I found myself reading a couple of books recently written by Chris Carlson.
I knew Chris many years ago when he was press secretary to the then-young governor of Idaho, Cecil D. Andrus. You might say our trains passed in the night once or twice, as I was a daily newspaper reporter in Idaho for a few years covering politics and state government, where Chris lived.
Nobody was surprised when Carlson went into the federal government when President Jimmy Carter named Andrus Secretary of the Interior. Now retired and finding time to write books, Carlson also put in a very distinguished career in corporate public affairs and consultancy after he left government. His books (see below) are works of reminiscing by a close confidant, not serious history, but they do offer insight as to what was happening on the inside of the Andrus phenomenon and how it succeeded so famously.
Low electric rates subsidized by federal construction of hydroelectric dams were sacrosanct for the generation after the Great Depression. After 1970, however, values started to change, and, with salesmen like Andrus, so did the subsidies. Carlson was mostly a behind-the-scenes pro, but he did have his own “15 minutes of fame” as the first person appointed to the Northwest Power Planning Council.
For more than 30 years, the NPPC’s eight-member board, including two appointments each from Washington, Oregon, Idahoand Montana, has used money from ratepayers to subsidize salmon recovery schemes in the Columbia and Snake River basins. From 2002-2012, spending to restore the wild salmon and steelhead runs added $7.32 billion to the region’s power bills. In his latest book, Carlson now calls that spending a “gargantuan waste” and says the region’s governors should just abolish the NPPC.
When “billions wasted” becomes the end to too many stories involving government, we’ve got trouble.
And, while it took Carlson 30 years to go public (at least in a book) with his conclusion the salmon subsidy was wasted, it often does not take that long to spot waste. New energy projects seem to be dropping like flies. Colorado’s “Abound Solar” was the promising prospect of rich and connected people who were in line as recently as 2010 to pick up a $400-million federal loan, but it is just a bankrupt hazardous waste site today. The taxpayers are out the $400 million.
No wonder folks are skeptical about this whole subsidy business. They are increasingly feeling like schmucks. That brings us to the subject I do not even want to be thinking about but cannot avoid – the Farm Bill.
It’s in trouble, and I think I know why. Try as they might, Farm Bill proponents are not doing enough to explain, let alone sell, the subsidies they pitch in the bill. I don’t see most of the subsidies contained in the bill as following enough widely held values.
When required, cash payments or tax reductions taxpayers or ratepayers provide should be easily explained as being in the public interest. In other words, subsidies should be easy to explain. The NPPC did that, promising more salmon; it just did not deliver.
Over the past decade, Farm Bills have delivered $84 billion for crop insurance, $59 billion in commodity payments and $62 billion for conservation. The real problem with the Farm Bill is that it is not easy to explain how these programs work and who benefits from them.
It’s far easier to scare consumers with the threat of milk going to $7 or $8 a gallon after Jan. 1, 2014, if there is no new or extended Farm Bill because we’ll go back to 1949 dairy regulations.
But food stamps will continue. At a cost of $75 billion in 2012, for a total of $764 billion during the past decade, food stamps will apparently continue to roll at current levels with or without a new or extended Farm Bill.
Eligibility for food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), was expanded significantly in the 2008 Farm Bill. More households were made eligible by disregarding income spent on dependent care and by not counting retirement and education savings as assets. Expanded eligibility was supposed to cost $2.3 billion more over 5 years, or $7.82 billion over 10, but turned out to be much more, with 47 million Americans now getting SNAP payments through plastic electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards.
Americans want to feed the needy and expected more spending on food stamps during the Great Recession. Now, with the economic recovery, most expect that cost curve should be bending down some.
The “sell” for House Republicans in cutting $39 billion over 10 years seems more to punish recipients and, by not accepting anything near the 5-percent cut, House Democrats seem to be saying they have no confidence in the rebounding economy and the future of job creation. Neither side is very appealing.
So there it lies, the Farm Bill of 2012 (now of 2013). Delayed, stuck in the mud, up a creek, looking messy, and very definitely coming down to the wire. Nobody really knows what is going to happen from here. Conferees have much work to do – on content, on selling, and on putting back together some semblance of the rural-urban coalition that used to turn these differing bills into law.
Typical of our times, the structure of the 41-member conference committee is as much of a mess as Congress itself. Rather than use the conference committee to polish down the rough edges, the structure added “leadership conferees” to ensure that there can be a big partisan fight over food stamps.
I’ve always tried to be optimistic, but they’re making it a lot harder these days.
Experts say the final chapter of this Farm Bill can include only three possible outcomes: 1.) an agreement on a new Farm Bill; 2.) an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill for one or two years, or 3.) no agreement is reached. Most expect a new bill or an extension, with some significant reduction in direct payments to farmers.
As for saving those salmon, Carlson has not given up. He thinks it would help to take out the Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and Lower Granite dams, all located on the Snake River about 10 to 110 miles up from the Columbia River.
These dam and lock systems built between 1962 and 1975 damage salmon runs while producing only about 1 percent of the region’s hydropower. Chances are, however, that they will remain in place for a long time as the four dams allow river barges to deliver Palouse wheat to market.
And, if they were to come down, it would take a big subsidy from the federal government.
(Chris Carlson’s published books include: “Medimont Reflections: Forty Years of Issues and Idahoans,” Ridenbaugh Press, 2013, and, “Cecil Andrus: Idaho’s Greatest Governor,” Caxton Press, 2011.)
Yesterday, you probably indulged in turkey, stuffing and a variety of side dishes. Today, you may be considering a turkey sandwich with cranberries and gravy for lunch.
- Have my leftovers been kept out of the “danger zone”?
- Was my food cooled rapidly?
- Were my leftovers stored safely?
- How do I properly reheat my leftovers so I know they’re safe?
The Danger Zone
Bacteria grow well between 40 degrees F and 140 F. Hot foods should be quickly refrigerated to minimize the time these foods are held within the danger zone. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends the following steps to keep foods safe:
- Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of cooking food or holding it hot (proper hot holding temperature is 140 degrees F).
- Throw away all perishable foods that have been left at room temperature for more than two hours.
Cool Food Rapidly
To cool food rapidly and make sure it reaches a safe refrigerator-storage temperature at 40 F or below, divide large amounts of food into shallow containers. The smaller the portion size, the faster food will cool in the refrigerator. A big pot of turkey stew will cool more slowly than several small containers, leaving the potential for increased bacterial growth in the middle of the pot that remains in the danger zone for a longer time.
Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of preparation. Although it seems energy-efficient to cool foods on the counter before putting them in the refrigerator, if they are left out too long or cooled too slowly, bacteria can grow and reach levels that can cause illness if foods are not cooled quickly.
The smell and look of leftovers aren’t always good indicators for whether foods are safe or not. A general rule of thumb is to use refrigerated leftovers within three to four days; frozen foods should be eaten within four months.
A table displaying safe storage times for both the refrigerator and freezer is available at foodsafety.gov.
Leftovers can be thawed in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in a microwave. Thawing in the refrigerator is the safest way to thaw leftovers; however, it is also the slowest.
When thawing leftovers in cold water, place them in a leak-proof package or plastic bag to prevent food from becoming contaminated from the air, water or surrounding environment. Change the water every 30 minutes to speed up thawing.
Whether using a microwave or reheating leftovers thawed with another method, make sure that the leftovers reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F before they are served.
If your leftovers have been frozen and you’d like to eat only a portion of them, thaw the leftovers in the refrigerator, remove the portion you’d like to reheat, and refreeze the remainder of the thawed leftovers without reheating.
Leftovers should be reheated to 165 degrees F. A food thermometer should be used to check the internal temperature of food.
Soups, sauces and gravies should be brought to a rolling boil.
Leftovers retain their moisture and heat more evenly when covered.
When possible, stir foods in the middle of heating.
Let foods stand for a few minutes after taking them out of the microwave. Heat will continue to distribute during this “standing time.”
Flat Creek Farm & Dairy of Swainsboro, GA, has recalled 200 pounds of Heavenly Blue cheese because of potential Salmonella enteritidis contamination. As of 11 a.m., Nov. 27, 2013, all purchasers had been notified and more than 90 percent of the product was collected or destroyed, according to Flat Creek.
When it was announced, no illnesses were associated with the recall.
Heavenly Blue is distributed in certain parts of Alabama, Georgia and Florida, and there were three online orders, which have all been notified. The product is packed in clear plastic and ranges in size from half a pound to whole wheels. The recall is specific to product marked with the lot code 130912XHB, which can be found on the front of the package.
The recall was the result of a routine sampling program conducted by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, which revealed that the finished products were contaminated. The company has identified the source of the problem and has eliminated it from future batches.
The recalled product is potentially contaminated with Salmonella enteritidis, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Long-term complications can include severe arthritis.
Dan Flynn, editor-in-chief of Food Safety News, and a person who I have known since he was a reporter at the Lewiston Morning Tribune covering a very young, and a bit radical, 19-year-old Pullman City Council member, is heading to Foodpolis in South Korea this week to plant the Food Safety News flag in Asia. Travel safely, Dan.
While he is gone (Dan is never really gone), James Andrews, managing editor, Lydia Zuraw, in the D.C. office, and Cathy Siegner, somewhere in Montana, will ably hold down the Internet in the name of a safer food supply.
For these people and friends, I am thankful, and you should be, too.
I am also thankful for the tens of thousands of Food Safety News subscribers, Facebook and Twitter followers, and the millions who read Food Safety News every month.
But, what I am most thankful for are all of those in food safety – in and out of farming, manufacturing, retail and government – who care that the food that we feed our families this day is healthful and safe.
Here’s to a happy and well-cooked Thanksgiving.